(Note: The writer is answering the question: “Does motive matter in mass shootings?”)
I’ve always known racism. I’ve always known bigotry. Often, they were my neighbors.
I grew up in a conservative, rural, mostly white town. I had no choice but to be conscious of the color of my skin and my Spanish last name. I was different.
I’ve been told to “go back” to places I’ve never been: Africa, the Middle East and Mexico. I’ve been called more racial, ethnic and religious slurs than I care to remember.
But nothing could have prepared me for the targeted mass slaughter of my people. A white supremacist drove 10 hours to destroy 22 humans in El Paso, Texas — just for looking like me.
He didn’t stop to confirm whether they were undocumented, citizens or had a green card. He didn’t ask if they were Americans, Mexicans or Guatemalans. He murdered them simply because they weren’t white.
Mass shootings occur with frightening regularity. Each time, the media confront a series of questions: How should they identify the shooter? Should they show their image? Should they discuss their motive?
Research suggests repeating their names and showing their faces can embolden copycats seeking the same infamy. Motive, on the other hand, is a different story.
I get the argument: We shouldn’t report that the shooter was motivated by white supremacist ideologies, some say, because the coverage might energize other white supremacists.
Under normal circumstances, that might be true. But in our circumstances, it’s foolish to presume that ignoring the shooter’s anti-immigrant views somehow marginalizes them. The same messages are being propagated by Donald Trump, who has the loudest microphone in the world.
White supremacists, in short, are already energized.
If we omit the El Paso shooter’s motive, we risk erasing the victims — minimizing them to footnotes in the coverage of yet another mass shooting.
We risk ignoring that the Hispanic community is under siege — and that we just suffered one of the deadliest attacks on a targeted population in modern U.S. history.
We also risk letting racist politicians who may have inspired the shooter off the hook.
So don’t tell me we need gun control now. I know that already. The El Paso atrocity was the result of much more than loosely regulated firearms. It was also the result of elected officials demonizing and scapegoating immigrants, putting wind at the backs of white supremacists.
Whether its human rights violations and deaths at detention centers or the new public charge rule that targets poor immigrants trying to live here legally, there’s no denying Trump and the Republicans are contributing to the rise in racially motivated violence.
In policy after policy, they’re the ones committing it. And in rally after rally, they’re the ones inciting it.
Increasingly, that political violence is being echoed by street violence — and not just in El Paso. An analysis of Trump’s campaign rallies, for instance, found that “counties which hosted a Trump rally saw a 226% increase in hate-motivated incidents.”
Unsurprisingly, the El Paso shooter’s manifesto echoed Trump’s concerns over the supposed “invasion” of the Southern border — language that Trump has used literally thousands of times in social media ads.
Trump half-heartedly denies that his anti-immigrant messaging plays any sort of role in fomenting white supremacist violence. Yet Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents executed one of the largest immigration raids in U.S. history just days after the mass shooting in El Paso.
Make no mistake, that was a message from the president to his base. What was he signaling? It sure looked like confirmation to me. This is why calling out the El Paso shooter’s motive matters so much.
Don’t look me in my eyes and pretend guns did this. They didn’t do it alone. It was a white supremacist domestic terrorist who pulled the trigger.
And however well-intentioned the media might be, pretending people like me don’t have a target on our back isn’t helping us.
Robert P. Alvarez works in communications at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.